My dear friend, the poet, writer and filmmaker Meg Torwl, passed away yesterday evening at the age of 46, on the palliative care ward at Lions Gate Hospital after a long battle with cancer. Due to circumstance, Meg was put into a shared room when she arrived and her condition was too delicate for a move to hospice. Though her wish had been to die at home, the team on the palliative floor was superb in helping us navigate the untimely and unfortunate passing of our loved Meg.
When it was necessary to move her, it was done with utmost care and attention to her level of pain and discomfort. As we sat taking turns sitting with Meg, reading to her and holding her hand, we were offered coffee, tea and toast, and knowing hugs. The nurses delicately explained to us the stages of the dying process; one of the nurses sat and told us that sometimes the spirit waits until there is no one in the room to take its leave.
When Meg's spirit did depart, our spiritual request to not have her body moved for a certain amount of time was lovingly granted, and a nurse hung a butterfly in the room-- "A symbol of transition," she said, "So she can spread her wings."
It's easy to place blame or complain about hospital care, overcrowding, and tired medical staff, especially when facing a loved one's end of life, but our last hours with our Meg were as cushioned and buoyed with support as if she had died at home, in her own bed. Even at the very end, our nurse put her hand to her heart and thanked us for allowing her to be part of the process. While we waited for the elevator down to our new world, the one without our beloved Meg in it, a passing nurse gave my friend's partner a big hug, looked into her eyes and said, "You had a good death."
Rick Hanson, one of my favourite teachers of the human condition, writes that positive experiences slip off us like Teflon, while negative ones stick to us like Velcro. Though we lost our Meg last night, it's the positive experience we had on the seventh floor palliative ward that will turn our loss into a positive memory; one that won't ever slip away from us.
Dhana Musil North Vancouver